On Friday, Anheuser-Busch InBev, the parent company of Bud Light, put two of its marketing executives on furlough after public outcry from conservative corners over the beer brand’s association with a transgender influencer.
The move follows weeks of controversy, including a video of Kid Rock shooting Bud Light cases, and calls for a boycott backed by conservative figures including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Here is everything you need to know.
Who is Dylan Mulvaney?
Dylan Mulvaney is a influencer and transgender actor who has been using her social platforms for the past year to share her gender transition journey in a TikTok series called “Days of Girlhood”. Mulvaney, 26, grew up in San Diego and studied musical theater in college. She got a role in the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon” before the pandemic halted the tour.
When did all this start?
On April 1, Mulvaney posted a video on his Instagram account, who has around 1.8 million followers, to promote a Bud Light contest during the NCAA basketball tournament. In the video, he places five cans of Bud Light on a table and opens one as he talks about the tournament, adding that he, too, is celebrating a major milestone in his journey: Women’s Day 365. “Bud Light sent me possibly the best gift: a tin with my face on it,” he says as an image of the personalized tin appears in the video.
What happened after that?
The collaboration triggered a backlash. among conservatives against Mulvaney, the brand and some of its executives. The #BoycottBudLight hashtag took off online, with consumers sharing videos of themselves pouring bottles of Bud Light or throwing away six-packs. rock child posted a video of himself shooting up a stack of Bud Light boxes. Country music star Travis Tritt said on Twitter that he would no longer use Anheuser-Busch products on his hospitality tour. Some Republican officials including DeSantis they said they no longer supported the brand and endorsed consumers to do the same.
On April 4, the company defended its partnership with Mulvaney, writing that it “works with hundreds of influencers across our brands as one of many ways to authentically connect with audiences across diverse demographics.”
“From time to time we produce unique commemorative tins for fans and influencers of the brand, such as Dylan Mulvaney,” Anheuser-Busch said in the statement. “This commemorative tin was a gift to celebrate a personal milestone and is not for sale to the general public.”
About 10 days later, as the riots continued, Chief Executive Brendan Whitworth issued a public statement. “We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people,” Whitworth said. “We’re in the business of getting people together for a beer.”
Despite the fact that the brand has been attacked by the right, others have criticized the company’s response to the storm.
What has the controversy meant for Bud Light?
It has resulted in a reorganization of the brand’s marketing operations, with two executives involved taking leave of their jobs, at least temporarily. The Wall Street Journal reported on sunday that Alissa Heinerscheid, Bud Light’s vice president of marketing who oversaw the partnership, and her boss Daniel Blake, who oversees marketing for Anheuser-Busch’s major brands, were placed on leave. An Anheuser-Busch spokesperson confirmed those moves to The Times, refusing to provide additional details “in the interest of the privacy and security of our employees.” Heinerscheid is the first woman to lead Bud Light marketing in the brand’s 41-year history.
The spokesperson said Bud Light had also made “some adjustments to simplify the structure of our marketing function to reduce layers so that our largest vendors are more connected to all aspects of our brands’ activities.”
According According to figures from Bump Williams Consulting cited by Beer Marketer’s Insights, Bud Light sales volume fell 21% in the week ending April 15.
What do social issues have to do with Bud Light?
For years, Anheuser-Busch has tried to evolve, with executives saying that Bud Light needed to appeal to younger consumers in order to stay on the shelves.
Heinerscheid described Bud Light as a brand in need of a renaissance in a March interview in the “Make yourself at home” podcast.
“I had a very clear job to do when I took over Bud Light,” said Heinerscheid, who took over in 2022. “It was, this brand is on the decline, it’s been on the decline for a long time, and if we don’t attract young drinkers to come and drink this brand, there will be no future for Bud Light”.
That meant the brand, which had a reputation for being “fraternity,” needed to become “truly inclusive” and appeal to both men and women, she said.
The partnership with Mulvaney isn’t the first time Bud Light has dabbled in social issues in its marketing campaigns. He previously partnered with LGBTQ+ organizations like GLAAD in 2019 to celebrate Pride Month in the US and the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce in 2022 to support LGBTQ+-owned businesses amid post-pandemic reopenings. .
But the backlash against his collaboration with Mulvaney has been swift, and the response comes as Red states across the country are restricting healthcare and the rights of transgender people. The Associated Press reported that More than 450 bills targeting transgender people have been introduced in state chambers across the country this year, which LGBTQ+ advocates say is a record number.
This story originally appeared on Los Angeles Times.